Embellished: Charlotte museum examines trend

Nora Fok wearing her “This is Life Neckpiece,” 2008-2010, of knitted dyed nylon with nylon rods.
Nora Fok wearing her “This is Life Neckpiece,” 2008-2010, of knitted dyed nylon with nylon rods. FRANK HILLS

No wonder the Mint Museum’s Annie Carlano stops and starts and rephrases as she describes “Body Embellishment,” an exhibition she curated that opens April 11 uptown.

Art, fashion, beauty, disturbance, modification, craft, provocation, unity, conformity and identity intersect here – not to mention perception. Tricky ground to cover in words.

“Let’s get beyond the words,” she says.

Good idea. Let’s only use a few, about the point of the show: It’s a look, she says, at a worldwide trend across disciplines – jewelry (broadly defined), tattoos, nail art and clothing – of “expansion and distortion.”

“We’re the first museum to really bring together the disciplines,” she says. “We’re showing the thinking that’s going on among artists producing design that goes into the body, onto the body, and jewelry that is just exploding and becoming more interdisciplinary ....”

Carlano says she’s had more calls from people planning to come to this show than any she’s curated in six years in Charlotte. And not because it’s all what some might call disturbing. It’s not.

But “it presents a very broad spectrum of what is beautiful in the 21st century,” she says. There’s work from both emerging and internationally known artists, and some from artists who’ve been doing what they do for decades, “but the world hasn’t taken notice – or only a smaller, more private world has.”

So why such interest? It’s the show’s breadth – and the fact it won’t travel: Most artists want their pieces back quickly, and only two of the works are the museum’s own.

Here’s some of what you’ll see:

▪ Dresses from New York design collaborative threeASFOUR, made with 3D printing and laser-sintering (a process in which lasers turn powder to solid form) that play with the human silhouette, adding a protuberance here, a tail-like extension there – and won’t be displayed on human-body-like mannequins. (Special forms have been created.)

▪ Pieces from a single artist that challenge differently, such as those of Detroit’s Lauren Kalman. One piece is a hood of faux pearls; one mimics the look of disease with gemstones inserted into flesh. (That’s shown in a photograph, displayed with the gems and “insertion tools.”)

▪ Tattoos, shown in photographs, from classical artwork to a massive integrated design by Switzerland’s Filip Leu covering an entire back of a body.

Thinkers may want to mull (for more mulling points, see our Fashion Sherpa Mike Watson’s column) before viewing, for example, the ethereal DNA-helix-like boa made by Nora Fok with fishing line, or a headpiece by Ana Rajcevic that suggests the evolution of our bodies might have turned out considerably more marine, or the elaborate finger-extending nail art produced by Dzine. (That artist, along with threeASFOUR and Fok, will travel to Charlotte to do workshops during the exhibition. Dzine will even create, with teens, a pop-up salon in the Mint.)

Carlano estimates 40 percent of it “really makes you ... ” She stops, begins again. “All of this work appeals to your emotions, and causes reaction.”

Art and fashion both, then.

A closer look

Want more? Check out these, in conjunction with “Body Embellishment”:


April 12: This collaborative of three designers, based in New York, will talk about fashion and their use of technology. Gabriel Asfour, Angela Donhauser and Adi Gil (who’ve done work for Lady Gaga and Bjork) came together from an array of challenged countries (Lebanon, Tajekistan, Israel) and have interesting things to say about creating unity with fashion here. 3-5 p.m.; $12 (that price also gets you into the “Body Embellishment” exhibition, pre-talk); free for teens and college students with ID; $5 for Mint members.

April 11: For students, threeASFOUR will do two free design labs and roundtable discussions: 10 a.m.-1 p.m. and 3-6 p.m. Sign up at


May 6: This installation artist, also known as Carlos Rolon, creates nail sculptures (his book “Nailed” offers a look at centuries of the practice) and designs environments, some inspired by the salon his mother ran in their living room when he was a child. He’ll talk about that in a lecture, as well as his installations, which draw from the Puerto Rican culture he grew up in, in Chicago. 6-8 p.m.; $12 (covers the “Body Embellishment” exhibition, pre-talk); free for teens and college students with ID; $5 for Mint members.

May 9-10: Rolon will work with teens 14-18 on a two-day project (9 am..-5 p.m. each day) to create a pop-up nail salon that will be on display in the museum. Teens get community service credit, too.

Nora Fok

June 17: Hong Kong-born fiber artist and jewelry designer Fok creates nature-inspired work with monofilament, or fishing line. (Take a look here.) She’ll travel to Charlotte from England to do a workshop for adults 6-9 p.m., in which you’ll make a bracelet and ring of monofilament. $100 ($75 for Mint members).

June 19, 20: Fok will do two free design labs with discussions for students 14-18, creating custom jewelry with fishing line and paper templates.

Local flavor

No area artists are included in this exhibition, but CLT_Style is looking at tattooing and nail art in these parts for future articles. Have favorites? Let us know at

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